Saving Your Puppy With the Heimlich Maneuver

Shar-Pei Pitbull Puppy Laying on Couch
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Choking can be a hazard for puppies, who are notorious for grabbing, tasting, and chewing anything within reach. When a foreign object gets stuck in a puppy's windpipe, it can become frantic as it tries to dislodge the object by gagging, retching, and coughing. It might also paw its mouth or rub its face against the ground.

If the object blocks your puppy's airway, it may kill the pup. For example, a small toy can seal a puppy's windpipe like a cork in a bottle and cause suffocation. In this case, you’ll need first aid to save your puppy’s life. If you hear wheezing, the air is getting through, but even a partial blockage may cause fainting and eventually death.

What Causes Choking in Puppies?

Aside from inhaling a foreign object, any medical condition that causes the airways to become blocked can cause choking or symptoms similar to those of choking.

  • A severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis can lead to swelling that makes breathing difficult.
  • Respiratory infections can cause a puppy's airway to become blocked with mucus and other materials, leading to coughing and gagging.

Treatment

Don't delay treatment—get to the nearest veterinarian immediately. But be careful if you attempt to help your dog yourself. If you reach into your choking dog's mouth while it's still conscious, you're almost guaranteeing that the animal will bite you. Only reach into its mouth if the dog has lost consciousness.

  • Pull the dog's tongue to the side and open the mouth widely. Use a cloth to grip and move the tongue out of the way. This action may actually help dislodge the object.
  • Perform a finger sweep. Can you see an object at the back of the throat? Use your finger in a sweeping motion from the side of the mouth to the center to try to dislodge it (without pushing it further into the throat). You can also use tongs or needle-nose pliers to try to grasp the object and gently pull it out.
  • Use the standing Heimlich maneuver. Puppies are shaped differently from people, but the same principle applies. For a small pup, hold its back against your stomach (head up, paws down), and find the soft hollow under its ribs. Your closed fist should fit into this spot. Pull up and in two or three times toward your own tummy, using a thrusting motion. Remove the object once it jars loose.
  • Use the kneeling Heimlich. If your pup is too big to lift, place it on its side and kneel behind its back. Place your closed fist in the hollow under its rib cage, and push upward and inward sharply, in the direction of the pup’s head and your knees. Remove the object once it jars loose.
  • Perform rescue breaths and chest compressions: If your dog doesn't begin breathing on its own after the object has been removed, begin CPR.
  • Turn on the air conditioning. Since puppies stay cool by panting, ​when they choke on something and can’t breathe, they also have trouble staying cool. During the car ride to the vet, be sure you have the air conditioning blowing. You can also dampen their feet to help them stay cool.

How to Prevent Choking

It’s best to supervise playtime and puppy proof your home. For example, secure all garbage and trash cans and make sure any choking hazards are locked away where your puppy can't get to them. Any small item that your dog might put in its mouth could be a choking hazard waiting to happen.

Even if they don't produce choking, swallowed objects can prove to be dangerous if they cause gastrointestinal damage or a blockage. Don't give your dog bones or chew toys that fit totally inside its mouth (the temptation to swallow the item may be too strong).

Follow-Up Care

Once the foreign object that choked your puppy is removed, there may be damage to the inside of its mouth or throat. This can take many days to heal and may also make it hard or painful for the puppy to eat its regular food. If necessary, soften your dog's normal diet by running it through the blender with warm water.

It’s a good idea to have your puppy checked out by the veterinarian, even if your first aid manages to get rid of the choking hazard. Your puppy may have bitten its own tongue or the inside of its mouth, or the foreign object could have left abrasions or done potentially more serious damage. These injuries might require you to give your puppy medication to help prevent infection, manage swelling, and reduce pain.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.